Microsoft plans to bring broadband access to more rural Americans with TV white spaces

Microsoft is looking to help more people in rural America get access to broadband internet using an interesting approach: TV white spaces. Leveraging the unused TV broadcast frequencies, Microsoft is hoping to kickstart an initiative that it hopes will eventually bring broadband internet to around 23 million people that lack access in rural America, effectively closing what it calls "the rural broadband gap."

In a post outlining the plan, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith sets a goal of closing the gap within the next five years. Says Smith (opens in new tab):

The time is right for the nation to set a clear and ambitious but achievable goal – to eliminate the rural broadband gap within the next five years by July 4, 2022. We believe the nation can bring broadband coverage to rural America in this timeframe, based on a new strategic approach that combines private sector capital investments focused on expanding broadband coverage through new technologies, coupled with targeted and affordable public-sector support.

For Microsoft's part, Smith says that the company will work towards the goal of covering 2 million people by 2022 by partnering with telecommunications companies as part of the Rural Airband Initiative in 12 states. Microsoft is also hoping to spur further investment from other companies and the public sector by reinvesting any revenue in further projects and providing royalty-free access to 39 patents and source code related to the technology used in TV white space broadband. Lastly, Microsoft plans to invest in digital skills training for people in rural communities as well.

Microsoft Rural Broadband Initiative

Microsoft already has experience in this area, having kicked off 20 TV whitespace projects in 17 countries around the world. Further, the technology itself could prove to be one of the least expensive options for covering families that have been left without broadband coverage due to nothing more than their location. Through research conducted with Boston Consulting Group, Microsoft says it has determined TV white spaces to be the best approach for communities with a population density between 2 and 200 people per square mile.

Smith is quick to point out that Microsoft isn't looking to become an ISP itself. Rather, the company will partner with ISPs to work towards its goals. And though there's still some work to be done with things like ensuring that specific white space bands are available in all markets, the hope is that Microsoft's initial plan will spur other companies and the public sector to get involved as well.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the former Editor-in-Chief of Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl

18 Comments
  • MS should become an ISP to compete with freaking Comcast and google...
  • I would love this. Cox is sticking it in me right now. Just started charging with $10 per 50GB over 1TB per month.
  • Over one terabyte? Somehow I fail to feel sorry for you. When you signed on the dotted line, that would have been part of the agreement. Or are you already paying for business class access and that wasn't in the agreement? That would be different.
  • Actually no. They just started charging for this. They instituted the cap long after I got my internet as well, but weren't charging for it. These are all part of the changing terms that all companies can do to you after you "signed on the dotted line." Unfortunately I have the same cap being on the top tier that someone on the bottom plan pays for, even though I pay over double that they do. This is my biggest issue. I pay for more speed because obviously I use more. I shouldn't have the cap as they do. Even if I do, give me an option to pay for more, or cap the max amount you can charge me. I would also have you know that it is also quite easy to use 1TB per month when you cut cable TV and stream HD and especially 4k programming, have an XB1 updating and downloading games, have multiple PCs updating and cloud storage synching, and normal internet usage for email and shopping. This is the 21st century, files are big now. These caps are far too small for everyone in the next 5 years.
  • The way you say that makes it sound like we have options. Comcast did the same to me; they're the only high-speed ISP in my area. They told me I could still have unlimited if I paid 50$ more per month. They want users to turn on other users who "use more" or "put more burden" on their network. As soon as we get used to the caps, we're screwed. e.g. Netflix rolls out 4K streaming in a few years. It will be much easier to go beyond 1TB. Then we'll all be paying for overages which would essentially be paying a tax for using non-Comcast video services.
  • This... All the way.
  • Is using your cell provider a good alternative in your case? Plenty of providers have unlimited plans nowadays, right?
  • If only the speed was there to compete with home internet. I have been considering it, especially if going over.
  • Did you realize that you have written "cox is sticking it in me"?
  • Yep. 😇
  • but then it would be US only. Nothing for Canada, UK, India, China, etc. - Nothing for the rest of the world!
  • My first thought was how Comcast, AT&T, and other ISPs will try to screw this up.  Yup, I'm starting to get too cynical for my own good.  I'm probably not wrong though, lol.
  • When in Canada?
  • We're all going to end up with brain tumors by 2030 is what this sounds like to me... I was trying to be more cynical than you...
  • I'm sure the ISPs can mess this up, but the more immediate obstruction for Microsoft is that bastion of old thinking and preventing change wherever possible- the National Association of Broadcasters. They've already filed a complaint with the FCC with the spurious notion that the whitespace wi-fi will interfere with nearby broadcast channels, as if rural areas are served by a full spectrum of channels. They've also dismissed the service as expensive because current routers cost more than $200, which is admittedly pricey. Microsoft expects router prices to drop by more than half next year with them sharing patents and cost sharing. And, of course, the NAB has no alternatives of its own to suggest.
  • They booted MS out of India (experiment with white noise internet in some village) cause the mobile providers were unhappy about it - that's a shame, the stupidest thing I've heard in a while
  • Explain what tv white space means
  • Google my friend, is your friend!   White Space refers to the unused broadcasting frequencies in the wireless spectrum. Television networks leave gaps between channels for buffering purposes, and this space in the wireless spectrum is similar to what is used for 4G and so it can be used to deliver widespread broadband internet.